Here’s the second chapter of my science fiction work-in-progress. Looks like it’s definitely going to be an M/M romance. Still not fully decided on a name. Maybe “The Price of Passion”? Comments appreciated. 🙂
Haki’s mother was sitting on a chair in the kitchen, Newtrina on the floor, playing with her wooden horses and corn husk dolls. Haki set the water on the table beside the basket he’d left there earlier. His mother had skinned and sliced the vegetables. Haki built up the fire beneath the stove, filled a pot with water and set it on the stove to boil.
“How was your day, Haki?”
“It was fine. Is father home?”
“Oh. Was your day well?”
“Yes. Well, mostly. Newtrina found some chalk in the pantry after you left. Little devil drew on almost all of the walls of the house. Some of it’s still there. I didn’t want to use up the rest of the water before you got home.”
“You can send for me, you know. If you need help. Or you can ask one of the neighbors.”
“Oh, I know. But not over chalk.” His mother laughed to herself.
Haki sat on the ground to play with Newtrina for a while.
“I saw Yana today.” He told his mother.
“Oh, yes. I saw the wajii.” His mother smiled at him. “How is she? I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“She seems well. She asked after you.”
“That was nice of her.”
“I met her grandson as well.”
“Her grandson. I don’t believe I’ve met him.”
“He’s… His name is Raja.”
“How old is he?”
“I’m not sure… around my age? Perhaps a little older.”
“Oh, that’s good. You need more people your own age. Your father and I work you too hard.”
“You… I don’t hold it against you.” He’d been about to say that she didn’t work him too hard but it was true that he never had the free time that the other people in town who were around his age had. It had been true for a while. He was always exhausted by nightfall and while the other boys were stopping to talk with peers, Haki was hurrying off to the next chore. It wasn’t just his mother. She couldn’t help it. She needed him to do what she couldn’t yet do for herself. His father expected him to work all day at the market regardless of the fact that he had plenty of chores to do already at home. It wasn’t all his father’s fault either. His father was of the opinion that in order for a young man such as Haki to have any sort of future, he needed to be working in the markets or taverns all day, being seen, earning a reputation, not doing ‘women’s work’ all day, regardless of how necessary that work was. But it was getting better.
Haki looked at his mother. She was still pale, but she didn’t seem as tired as usual, and that was after a full day alone with Newtrina. A year ago she would have been falling asleep by now. The neighbors had had to help her watch Newtrina whenever Haki had to work. This past year, she’d been gradually growing stronger and had been taking on more and more of the household chores, such as cleaning and making lunch and caring for Newtrina all day. Perhaps she wouldn’t need him so much soon.
Haki got up from the floor when the water was boiling and began to make dinner. They talked while he cooked and she was pleased to hear Capo’s prediction of rain. As they finished their dinners, the door burst open and Haki’s father came stumbling in.
“That ignorant fool! Gonna die a drunkard, he is.” He said as he swayed. He stopped and squinted at them. “What are you doing?”
“Eating. Would you like some? It’s dinner time.” Haki offered.
His father seemed to think about this. “No. No, thank you.”
Haki sighed as his father stumbled upstairs to his room, mumbling about men cooking and falling once on the stairs. Haki turned and began to wash up. Once he was certain his father had gone to sleep, he put the wajii on the baking rack to warm.
“Oh, that smells wonderful, Haki.” Haki nodded to his mother and took in a deep breath.
When he was done washing, his mother killed the fire in the stove and they sat in the kitchen together to eat their wajii with their hands. Newtrina seemed uncertain if she liked the wajii or not but was thrilled that they were eating with their hands for once. She kept saying “Hands! Hands!” and waving her greasy little fingers in their faces. Haki laughed. Secretly, he was also pleased to be breaking etiquette.
Afterward, Haki’s mother took Newtrina upstairs with a small basin of water to get her ready for bed and Haki stayed in the kitchen to fill his father’s water skin for the next day and hang it from its hook on the wall. He filled two more small basins for himself, and his mother to wash up before bed and three glasses to put beside their beds during the night. Then he covered what was left of the water for his father to use in the morning. He took one basin up to his mother’s room, then went back down to get the three glasses. He set one in his mother’s room then went to his sister’s room, where his mother was trying to convince her that it was bed time. He wished them a goodnight then set the last glass in his room and went back down stairs. He lit a candle and went out to use the outhouse that they shared with the next door neighbors, preferring the dark to using a chamber pot. Then he went back to the kitchen to fetch his basin and bring it up to his room. With a cloth, a stub of soap, and candlelight he washed himself up. Then he pulled on a night shirt and, finally, went to bed.
A loud crash awoke him the next morning. He heard yelling and jolted up out of bed, not really awake enough yet to process what was being said. A door slammed. Haki hurried downstairs. His mother was awake, in the kitchen.
“Did I oversleep?” He asked her.
“No. It’s early. Your father was making a ruckus.”
“About what?” He asked, fearing the answer.
“Nothing. Nonsense. I’m going to check on your sister.” She sighed and headed back upstairs.
Haki looked outside. It was dark still but a small clock beside the window told him that sunrise wasn’t far enough away to be worth going back to sleep. He sighed and went back upstairs to put some clothes on. He fetched the bread and cheese from the pantry, eating some for breakfast. He checked the buckets to see if there was enough left to make porridge for his mother’s and Newtrina’s breakfast. There wasn’t, so he supposed his father had bathed himself sometime before storming out. He hadn’t heard anything since so he supposed his sister was still asleep. It could wait then. He went up to begin collecting chamber pots then bringing them down to the outhouse to empty, starting with his mother’s room, then his father’s, then sneaking into his sister’s room to get hers. He had dumped the little water left from the day before into a basin and used that and some soap to rinse the pots and wash his hands. After returning all the pots to the rooms, he took the buckets and headed out to get more water. He’d have to face the crowds today, most likely, but with his father already in a mood he thought it best to get to work quickly.
By the time he reached the well there was indeed a crowd. He sighed and took his place in line. People who lived closer to the well had smaller buckets, already filled, as it wasn’t very difficult for them to step out to the well for more water during the day. These people mulled around with others, chatting and gossiping. People who lived further away, such as himself, had larger buckets or multiple buckets. In some of these families young men such as himself helped carry the water. In others the water carrying duties were divided up into small buckets carried by multiple children and their mothers. In most families, the women carried the buckets themselves, often while trailing small children behind them that couldn’t be left at home alone. It reminded Haki of when he was young, trailing behind his mother.
He had been trying to ignore the conversations around him but nonetheless noticed a common topic. When it was going to rain. Not surprising, since many families far from the well, such as his own, had small rain barrels that, when the rain filled them, reduced the amount of trips the women and children had to make to the well. Haki had inspected their barrel yesterday to insure that it was ready for rain. He held his tongue, knowing that these Ayet’ti women wouldn’t care to hear the claim of an old Tuhautu man. Speaking of which… Haki looked to the sky. It was depressingly clear and sunny. Then Capo was wrong? Haki sighed and shifted his feet.
Finally, it was his turn at the well. He went as quickly as he could and filled them as high as dared. He hefted them up and moved aside for the next person in line, starting the long trek home.
By the time Haki reached home his mother had finished making their lunches and a sleepy Newtrina was leaning against their mother’s leg, still in her night dress.
“Good morning, Newtrina.” Haki said after putting the water on the table.
Newtrina grunted. Haki laughed and sat at the table for a moment as his mother put some water in a pot to make porridge. After a while he got up and filled his water skin. He noticed that his father had forgotten his. Haki grabbed it and the two lunches, another thing his father had left without. He wished his mother and sister good bye and headed out to the market.
It was warm out. His father was likely already missing his water skin. Haki had hoped to avoid him today. Haki made his way to the black smith shop. He was stopped on his way by an argument in the street. An Ayet’ti man was facing off a young Tuhautu man.
“You think you can treat her like that, you barbarian?”
“You’re over reacting! I was just making conversation! She was fine before you jumped in!”
“She was not fine. She was trembling like a leaf. You are disgraceful.” The woman in question was cowering behind the two men, her face beet red, probably more embarrassed by this display than anything else.
“I’m disgraceful, huh? You’re the one making a scene.”
“Excuse me, but please do take this argument elsewhere, this is a place for business and business cannot be done with you two standing in the way” a merchant said, stepping between them.
“We’re done. This is ridiculous.” The Tuhautu young man turned away.
“Wa..” the Ayet’ti man started but was stopped by the woman’s hand on his arm.
“I’m unharmed, let it go. They were only words. I don’t want you to fight over it.”
Haki pushed through the dissipating crowd and continued on his way. Just as he stepped into the blacksmith’s stall, it began to rain.
Haki was on lunch break, sitting on a free patch of wet ground far enough from the main market area not to get stepped on. His lunch consisted of bread, potatoes, and peas swimming in a broth in a lidded clay bowl, eaten with a spoon.
“Hey, Haki.” Was all the warning he had before a body plopped down beside him.
“Uh, hello. Raja.” Haki stared at the smiling man now lounging beside him.
“I had lunch already. Most people have, so it’s slow at our stall now.” Haki nodded. He was having a late lunch because he had waited out the rain, not wanting to eat inside like the others. Being in the smithy still made him tense, which completely dulled his appetite.
It had been a very slow day. The rain had gotten heavy at one point and many shoppers, and several merchants without roofs for their wares, had gone home. Their own stall was, fortunately, roofed.
“You should come to the Market center tonight. We’re show casing a new dancer. She’s very good.” Raja said.
“I don’t think I’ll be… we? You’re a dancer?”
“Oh. Yes.” Raja smirked and lifted his tunic to show me the beaded scarf wrapped around his hip. “I cover it when I’m helping Grandmother because I tend to get it covered in flour otherwise.”
“Oh.” Haki couldn’t help staring.
“Do you want a demonstration?” Raja was smirking even wider now.
“No. I’m fine, thank you.” Haki answered quickly. The last thing he needed was for word to get around that he was spending time with a Tuhautu dancer. Haki glanced around.
“Well, if you change your mind…” Raja said teasingly then flopped over onto his back. “You Ayet’ti are so stiff. Really. You should come tonight. You’d like it and what could it hurt?”
It could hurt a lot, Haki thought. “I just don’t know if I can. I have a lot to do in the evenings.” He said, truthfully.
“Hmmm. Well, keep it in mind.”
“Alright. Thank you for inviting me.” Haki got back to eating.
Later that night, Haki was scraping off the dishes when his father came in.
“I’ve got wonderful news.” He said. He looked sober. His eyes were clear and he had a small smile on his face.
Haki’s mother stood, a pleasantly surprised look on her face.
“Haki! Pay close attention boy. Leave that.” His father ordered, gesturing at the dishes. Haki turned his back on the work and looked at his father. “Good. Now, I was speaking to Roga this morning” Roga owned one of the taverns that his father frequented. He was also known for having a lot of illegitimate children. He’d been a main topic of the gossipmongers’ for years now. Few Ayet’ti even spoke to him politely anymore with the exception of the drunks who frequented his tavern.
“He told me” His father continued, “that that pretty daughter of his, Ne’et, has had her eye on you.”
“Really?” Haki hadn’t noticed. He didn’t really know much about Ne’et, had never spoken to her, except, perhaps when they were children at lessons.
“You’re the same age and that’s just what you need! To stop all this nonsense. A woman to help your mother with the woman’s work.” Haki felt his belly turn cold. He knew what was coming. His mother did also. She looked at Haki and, seeing the look of cold shock on his face, put her hand on his father’s arm.
“Darling, he’s still young- “His father pulled away from her.
“He’s more than old enough. Jessrop’s son was married at sixteen turns and they’ve got two fine boys now and he works all day at the tavern, like a real man. It’s about time Haki shaped up. This is just what he needs.”
“Father, I’ve never met her…”
“You’ve seen her. Yes? She’s beautiful. And polite. Never speaks back. A fine young woman. You know, I hadn’t known your mother either when our marriage was arranged. It isn’t odd. You’ll come to like her soon enough. You couldn’t not like her with a face like that.”
Haki was starting to panic. ”Father, I…”
“No. I’ll hear no more of it.” He cut his hand across the air. “I’ve made my decision. I’ll start the arrangements tomorrow. It’d be the best for you, boy.” With that Haki’s father headed up the stairs.
It was silent in the kitchen for a long time. Haki staring at the wall and Haki’s mother staring at him. Finally, Haki turned to finish his work.
Arranged marriages weren’t uncommon in Ayet’ti culture. In fact, they were the norm. Most children had their future spouses chosen for them at birth, in fact. Not formally, of course, but an informal agreement could be just as binding. It had come up in the past but never seriously. And each time it had made Haki’s blood run cold. He didn’t want to be married. He didn’t want what his parents had. And besides that, once he was married he wouldn’t be able to help his mother or even spend much time with her. There were certain expectations of a married man. He’d be expected to work in the markets all day, to strive to become a master craftsman or respected merchant. They’d expect him to father children of his own and be the head of his own house. He wasn’t ready for all that. He couldn’t even picture himself in the role. Even more than that, he’d yet to develop any real interest in women.
Perhaps it was because he was so busy. He didn’t know many Ayet’ti girls his own age and didn’t know any of them well. And he was still young. But, whatever the reason, he wasn’t sure he was capable of being a husband to Ne’et.
Haki lay in his bed, his chores done, but was unwilling to sleep. His mind kept wandering back to what his father had said. What would it be like to be married to this girl? This stranger? I’m not ready he thought to himself. He could feel himself panicking. I can’t breathe, I need some air. He stood and quickly redressed. He opened the window and climbed out onto the tree branch just outside. He shifted himself onto it slowly, unsure if it would hold his weight. He hadn’t tried this in years and he was a good deal heavier now than he’d been then. It seemed to be holding. He climbed down the tree and jumped the last foot’s length or so to the street beneath.
He took a deep breath of the night air and then he ran.
Haki stopped when he saw the market lights in the distance. Now what? Go to the market? He knew he wouldn’t get away with it so easily now. Before when he’d done it he’d still been a child, not expected to know what was proper. And even then, he’d only gotten away with it because nobody’d found out. He remembered how daring he’d felt as a child, watching the market from the shadows. Then that one night when he’d gone in, watched the dancers. He’d never had the nerve to try it again. Haki was still stunned that he hadn’t gotten caught. No one had recognized him. Well, besides Raja. Now, if he was caught, if he was recognized, it’d be a disgrace. Much worse than befriending a Tuhautu woman and that had been enough to make his mother the talk of the town for years. Ayet’ti did not go out at night. They did not fraternize with Tuhautu. They certainly did not dance or watch others dance. It was dirty, lascivious, and indecent. And what if his father found out about all of this?
But he couldn’t go back. He just couldn’t. Haki took a step forward. He wasn’t sure what he was doing. Perhaps he’d lost his mind. He felt terrified and strangely alive. He couldn’t seem to stop himself. Goddess, what am I doing?
Tonight wasn’t a festival so it wasn’t quite as crowded as the last time he was here. Bright torches lit up the walkways and merchants’ stalls. People were grouped here and there, casually talking. Haki kept his head down and tried to stay out of direct light as he made his way toward the market center. Still, some people stared. A couple even pointed. He felt incredibly unwelcome.
Haki spotted the stage and headed toward it. Music was being played by two men off to the side with flutes and by another with a drum. There was a young woman on the stage, dancing. Haki found himself staring. Once he realised what he was doing he panicked and looked away. I shouldn’t have come.
“Haki?” Raja broke off from a group of dancers and approached him, a surprised smile on his face.
“Greetings, Raja.” Haki paused in his escape. His face felt warm, like he’d been caught. “Uh… I… was just heading home. I’m unaccustomed to being out this late.” He wanted to leave but he didn’t want to offend Raja.
“We just found each other. You can’t leave yet. Want a drink?” Raja held out an open, half empty flask. Haki stepped back, surprised by the intimacy.
“Oh…Uh, no thank you. I really shouldn’t… Thank you for inviting me.” Haki turned to leave but Raja put a hand onto his arm.
“Come now, where’ve you got to go? Can’t you stay a little longer? We haven’t had any fun yet. Please?”
Haki looked down in surprise at the hand loosely grasping his arm. He felt a strange tightening in his stomach.
“Um… I guess I could stay for a bit…”
Raja smiled. “Come on. I’ll introduce you to some people.”
Haki followed hesitantly as Raja lead him by the arm to a small cluster of people by the stage.
“Hey, Udrick, Kirin, this my friend, Haki.”
Two Tuhautu men turned towards them.
“He’s an Ayet’ti.” One of them said, eyes wide and jaw slack.
“Is he really?” Raja teased, turning an amused look towards him. Haki was embarrassed to realise that Raja was still holding his arm. He gently pulled it away. Raja let him.
“Uh, yes… I suppose you knew that already… Sorry. I’m Udrick.” The man said, turning a bit pink. He inclined his head to Haki and Haki returned the gesture.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Haki told him.
“And I’m Kirin. Hello. Raja’s been telling us about you.” The other man said, turning a teasing smirk towards Raja.
“He has?” Haki asked, honestly surprised and perplexed by what he could possibly be saying to them. Apparently not that he was Ayet’ti.
“Kirin…” Raja said turning a bit pink himself. Kirin’s smile grew a little wider.
“Mmmm. Our Raja here is very intrigued with you.”
Haki turned to Raja. Raja gave him a little smile.
“Hey!” Udrick yelled and grabbed Kirin and Raja ach by the arms. “Pay attention. Clara’s up.”
Haki looked to the stage. There was a short Tuhuatu girl standing a little awkwardly on the stage. Her ponytail was dyed pink while the shorter hair on her head was a soft brown. She was wearing the traditional dress of a dancer with her legs peeking out of her skirt when she moved. She took positon, onto her toes with her wrists crossed above her head. The music began, slow and haunting. The girl lowered her arms slowly and began to sway on her toes. Back and forth she swayed, leading with her hips. Gradually the movement became wider and wider until she stepped one foot out and began the dance. Her arms moved in slow undulations out to the side, forward, back, as she stepped in time with her feet; side, forward, back. Occasionally, the music would pick up and she’d kick out or spin. Haki forced himself to look away and glanced round at the crowd instead. Most were enraptured. Some were more interested in food, friends, and drink. Haki turned his head and was surprised to meet Raja’s eyes.
Raja gave a little smile and looked away. Haki turned back to the dancer but continued to look at Raja from the corner of his eye. The soft light glittered across his softly furred forehead. It was brown, but slightly lighter in color than that of the girl on stage. His pony tail was a natural reddish orange. The skin of his face was smooth and unscarred, with a rich, dark tan color. His jaw was soft, a delicate smile dancing across his lips. Haki could see one of his canines poking out over his bottom lip.
The music had picked up again and Haki turned to see the dancer spinning at an impressive rate. It was a marvel to Haki that she could manage it without falling or at least feeling ill. A sullen part of Haki thought that he could relate.